SYDNEY – A conservation group's boat had its bow sheared off and was taking on water Wednesday after it collided with a Japanese whaling ship in the frigid waters of Antarctica, the group said. The boat's six crew members were safely rescued.
The clash was apparently the most serious in the past several years, during which the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sent vessels into far southern waters to try to harass the Japanese fleet into ceasing its annual whale cull.
Clashes using hand-thrown stink bombs, ropes meant to tangle propellers and high-tech sound equipment have been common in recent years, and collisions between ships have sometimes happened.
The society said its boat Ady Gil — a high tech speed boat that resembles a stealth bomber — was hit by the Japanese ship the Shonan Maru near Commonwealth Bay and had its bow sheared off.
"The condition of the Ady Gil now is that it is inoperable and the crew of the Ady Gil has been transferred to our other vessel, the Bob Barker," Locky Maclean, the first mate of the society's lead ship told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
The Ady Gil's captain had stayed on board to try to save equipment from the boat "before it floods too severely," he said.
Japan's Fisheries Agency, which has no direct involvement in whaling but overseas all the country's fishing operations, said it was still checking details about the clash.
"We have confirmed that there was a collision, but we have no other details. We have not heard that any boats have sank. We are now trying to confirm details of why the collision occurred," said Fisheries Agency spokesman Toshinori Uoya.
Uoya said there were no injuries on the Japanese side, but said he was not sure about the Sea Shepherd crew members.
Sea Shepherd sends boats to Antarctic waters each southern summer to try to stop the Japanese whaling fleet killing whales under what it calls a scientific whaling program. Conservationists and many countries say the program is a front for commercial whaling.
Earlier Wednesday, the Institute of Cetacean Research, the nonprofit organization that conducts the hunt, said in a statement that one of the ships in the whaling fleet was attacked by the Ady Gil, but it did not mention a collision.
It said the Ady Gil arrived on the scene at about 1800 GMT and that its crew threw ropes at the whaling mothership, the Nisshin Maru. It said another Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, had already arrived in nearby waters.
The Ady Gil came "within collision distance" of the Nisshin Maru's bow and repeatedly dangled a rope in the water in an attempt to entangle the ship's rudder and propeller, and lobbed small projectiles designed to release a foul smell.
The whalers responded by firing high-powered hoses to keep the Sea Shepherd vessels away.
"The obstructionist activities of the Sea Shepherd threaten the lives and property of those involved in our research, are very dangerous and cannot be forgiven," the statement said.
Each side routinely alleges the other engages in dangerous activity during what has become a cat-and-mouse chase in one of the world's most remote and isolated regions. Australia and New Zealand — which both have Antarctica territories and are among the closest nations to the waters where the hunt goes on — have urged both sides to show restraint, warning that they are far from rescue of anything goes wrong.
Japan's whaling fleet in November left for its annual hunt in the Antarctic waters. Uoya said that for security reasons, details of the fleet's composition, the number of whales it hopes to take and the number of crew members is not being released to the public.
My first thought, honest to god, was, "Way to go, dumbasses." While I understand what the anti-whaling folks were trying to do (even though I disapprove of the methods)...getting your own boat sunk is really not the way to do it.